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  • Subject: Cabbagegate
  • From: james singer <inlandjim1@q.com>
  • Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2010 18:44:44 -0800

Everybody's seen this, right?

AOL News
(Sept. 15) -- His neighbors call it "Cabbagegate." And it cost Steve Miller a lot of green. The Clarkston, Ga., man was fined $5,200 for growing too many vegetables in his backyard.

Miller had been growing legumes for 15 years, selling them at local farmers markets and giving them away to friends, before he was cited by the Dekalb County Code Enforcement office for the first time last September. It's illegal to garden at such a level in the zone where he lives. Miller tried to challenge the penalty, but a reprieve was slow in coming, and the fight's not over.

"Time went on, but no answers, then I get a letter in the mail with more fines," he told AOL News. "Didn't get an answer back from the county until I started getting notices from code enforcement in October, and before I knew it I got a subpoena to go to court."

After a long legal battle, Miller successfully rezoned his land. But despite that victory, the county is still fining him for all of his illicit vegetables, and even for hiring workers to weed the fallow land after he stopped working it.

Miller runs a relatively large operation for a backyard gardener -- about one and a quarter acres in production with crops like celery, tomatoes, lettuce, Swiss chard, beets, cilantro, carrots and, of course, cabbage. He peddles his harvests at farmers markets, but doesn't always turn a profit. And it's far from his main occupation. Miller is a landscaper by trade.

"It's not my source of income, it's my passion," he said. "If it were my main source of income, I'd have to sell my house."

Miller had no idea that growing vegetables on his land was illegal -- in fact, he purchased the plot because he knew people had grown vegetables for profit there in the past.

While many food activists cite urban agriculture as crucial to establishing locally sourced food systems, zoning laws present challenges. What distinguishes outlaw tomato plants from a legitimate commercial operation is not always clear. Some, like Miller, become unwitting violators.

"There's a fine line between urban agriculture and backyard gardening," said Michael Wall, communications director for Georgia Organics. "Since this is an emerging issue, there are going to be some gray areas.

"Most of the time," he continued, "it's the laws that need updating."

In Georgia, as across the country, many municipalities are making compromises to encourage new, productive land uses. Earlier this year, New York's underground apiarists scored a victory when the city agreed to make beekeeping legal, and allowances for backyard chickens have been enacted in many cities, such as Seattle and New Haven, Conn.

Sometimes, however, it takes a case like Miller's to motivate change. He's glad that the county was able to help him rezone his land, but still stung by giant fines he incurred.

The county refused to comment as the case is still pending, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

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